Review: FANTASTIC FOUR Reboot Made From Unstable Molecules
Sigh. I guess it's clobberin' time...
Not to spoil anything, but at the end of 20th Century Fox's latest reboot of the Fantastic Four, we're left with a giant crater. In more ways than one. The pop culture desolation remaining in the dull wake of director Josh Trank's (Chronicle) big screen take, the third such pass at this material, on the origin of stalwart science-y super heroes Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch, and The Thing cannot be understated. Previous attempts being a notorious unreleased Roger Corman-produced version, and then a pair of lightweight entries from Fox, directed by Tim Story.
Not being precious about comic book source material, even the very material that launched the Marvel age of comics, is one thing. Contorting it in desperation is quite another. Yet, amid the deadening tonal changes grafted onto the high-flying four-color Fantastic Four of yore -- we're still waiting for that version...! -- lies a throughline about pattern recognition.
In the film, Susan Storm (Kate Mara), who becomes the Invisible Woman, is granted by the film's creators this interest and skill. In tracking down another character via the internet, she describes how patterns repeat... we only have to look for the similarities among the variations. Nothing may be more frustratingly true of this entire film in comparison to every other misguided version that's come before it.
Make no mistake, the Fantastic Four is a property that's fantastically stuck in the mud, at once clinging to its 1963 trappings, but also on the surface longing to deny them. This incarnation wants so badly to be cool (and it is cool badly), failing to realize that the Fantastic Four may be many things, but "cool" has never been one of them.
In working so hard to make the film cool, the verve and spirit of Marvel's First Family has indeed been stripped away and replaced with an angsty, pointless gloom. This gloom, though, is but window dressing for the tired Fantastic Four origin story. The studio understands that no matter what, it has to be called "The Fantastic Four," and it has to be these characters with their particularly retro gee-whiz style powers.
Likewise, the baddie has to be called Victor Von Doom (played here by Toby Kebbell, doing his best James Franco), the on-the-nose name of Marvel's greatest villain, yet one that gloriously telegraphs trouble to everyone except the other characters in this film. But making these ingrained elements fly while pushing the property into a self-serious Christopher Nolan-y direction only results in embarrassing disaster, something that is, on the whole, worse than Tim Story's 2005 film. In any case, a pulse would've been nice.
The initial covert trip to space and cosmic rays of past tellings have been replaced with an after hours transdimensional teleportation ride, riddled with otherworldly green energy. The energy is released from the cracked ground when an American flag is planted into the fragile ground of the new terrain. This "Planet Zero" is literally broken by the American pioneering spirit, in this case masking across-the-board hubris.
In this improperly dark and cynical moment of would-be Nolan-esque political commentary, the screenplay's sense of self-pride swells beyond the typed equivalent of this incarnation's rocky CGI body of Ben Grimm. Do we really want or need a Fantastic Four where everything is the fault of the protagonists, and their desire to emulate Neil Armstrong?
In the meantime, credited screenwriters Simon Kinberg (also a producer), Jeremy Slater, and Trank (again) inexplicably plow over most any moment of potential compelling drama. Immediately following the sequence of the disastrous journey into mystery that empowers the characters, the film cuts to One Year Later, when everyone has settled into their trademark superhuman abilities.
Even Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), irrevocably physically mutated into the orange-shelled The Thing, has found a place for himself as a military grade weapon. The Human Torch (a game if also supressed Michael B. Jordan) can't "flame on" enough, and Reed Richards (Miles Teller) stretches onward to his destiny. From this point on, everyone is stoically focused to arriving at that crater at the end of this film.
Fans of the long-running Marvel Comics series know that somewhere in our vast multiverse, there is a good and proper movie adaptation of the Fantastic Four waiting to happen. The fact that this is the third failed big screen attempt is just one more thing for them to lament about Josh Trank's opposite-of-fantastic sophomore slump. But on the other hand, Fantastic Four fans know by now not expect Hollywood to get it right.
It's tough though, when the vibe of the entire film is so thoroughly wrong. It's as though the studio took all the wrong lessons from the two Tim Story-directed Fantastic Four films, and apparently imposed a strict "no humor" edict. The result is a somber, murky eyesore of a film. The overwhelming dominance of grey and darkened hues is the real star, a director's limited color palate run amok. It's enough to make one want to shout out, "For the love of Stan and Jack, turn on a stinkin' light already!" We have to assume that The Thing is actually orange. It's so bad, that when the characters travel to the oppressive environment of Planet Zero where they aquire their powers, it looks and feels the same.
There's every indication that Trank took this high profile project on only because it was offered to him, not because he knew what to do with it. If there's a positive comment to be given, it goes to the cast. Each performance, including the supporting players (including Reg E. Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson), demonstrates signs of life.
The said life is struggling, flailing, and ultimately futile, but they are nonetheless a talented assemblage doing what they can. But, nothing can truly elevate this pointless and sullen trudge, in which an uncompelling ramp-up drags on and on until the key moments of super powers arrives. Then, in a tame flurry of bad CG and forced character moments (why is Doom evil again...?) it actually gets worse.
Not even the ubiquitous Stan Lee could be bothered to cameo in this movie. Josh Trank's Fantastic Four is this summer's gaping cinematic hole in the ground. The World's Greatest Comic Magazine is officially also The World's Worst Major Movie Property. It may take a genius on the level of Reed Richards to figure out how to do it, but there are those of us who cling to hope that these characters will get cinematic due yet. Perhaps, fittingly, the fourth time will be a charm.
- Josh Trank
- Jeremy Slater (screenplay)
- Simon Kinberg (screenplay)
- Josh Trank (screenplay)
- Stan Lee (Marvel comic book)
- Jack Kirby (Marvel comic book)
- Miles Teller
- Michael B. Jordan
- Kate Mara
- Jamie Bell